I started reading this book and was hooked. The storyline, involving a young woman trying to escape (and rescue her friend from) a labor camp in Siberia, was immediately appealing. Well-developed characters, fast-moving plot, detailed historical setting, skillful interweaving of past and present, it had it all.
Unfortunately, the book only went downhill from there.
At face value, it looks good, and The Red Scarf has a lot of potential--so much that I was sorry to see how quickly it devolved. Furnivall has a good grasp of how to write romance if that's what you're looking for, but here, it seems to be at the expense of the plot. Characters' actions have no consequences, so that we have a story set in a brutal world where people are killed or sent to labor camps for little or no reason, yet the main characters can get away with anything, up to and including murder. When misfortune does catch up with them, it usually comes out of the blue, not as a consequence of any of their numerous missteps, only to be too-easily solved. This is exacerbated as the book goes on--I won't spoil it, but at the end we have a couple of bizarre and completely unrealistic events, which Furnivall doesn't even attempt to explain, apparently hoping we won't notice.
Then the magic. Don't get me started. This book is set in a real, historical setting, in Russia during a brutal time. So, how to keep the characters from being arrested and killed or starving to death after the Soviet government confiscates all their food "for the good of the people"? Instead of showing us how real people in this time period dealt with these problems, Furnivall's solution is: bring in a gypsy with mind-twisting powers to save the day! It's a cop-out, and I for one felt cheated.
If you don't mind major plot holes, a series of increasingly unrealistic events, and a love story that quickly becomes nauseating for all but the most hardcore romance-novel fans, then this is the book for you. As for the rest of us, though, I don't recommend it.